In his first book, The United States of Wal-Mart, journalist John Dicker lays out plenty of reasons to revile the goliath retailer and its ubiquitous smiley faces. Yet he understands that such criticism may sound like liberal elitism to folks whose shopping options are limited by a modest income. "How do you explain to a poor person that a $30 DVD player sucks?" he asks. "That's the complexity of the Wal-Mart clusterfuck we're in right now."
Dicker, who'll sign copies of his debut at the Tattered Cover Cherry Creek on Tuesday, June 28, tackles this conundrum head-on, debunking the Wal-Mart spin in the process. For example, he explains that tax revenues generated by new stores are often counterbalanced by hefty government subsidies tendered by short-sighted public officials, not to mention welfare payments made to employees whose tiny paychecks can't cover their living expenses.
The facts and figures that support these arguments could have been presented in a dry, clinical manner. Fortunately, Dicker livens them up with language that's entertainingly snarky and, at times, strategically profane. In the introduction, he writes, "It's hard to know exactly when it happened, just as it's impossible to know if, or when, it will end. But for now, it's clear: We're all Wal-Mart's bitches."
Not everyone has passively accepted this fate. Dicker documents the efforts of citizen groups that have successfully fought to keep Wal-Mart out of their neighborhood, and offers strategic tips to future battlers. Instead of complaining about abstract matters, like the way the firm's chronically low wages may create a ripple effect and repress retail salaries across the board, he suggests that protestors concentrate on more tangible issues, such as traffic density. He also resists the temptation to call for a Wal-Mart boycott, in part because the ever-growing number of discount-minded consumers don't have loads of morally superior alternatives. "As a country, we haven't quite learned that there are implications to where we shop," Dicker maintains. "At the same time, it's not like there's an organic, hippie, fair-trade supercenter on one side of the street, and Wal-Mart on the other."
Put on a happy face.